Art Chenoweth

If two new shows make it to prime time television next fall that don’t exactly thrill you, don’t blame me. In a preview session Saturday night they didn’t thrill me, either.

Yes, it’s true. Through some throw of the dice, I received tickets to an audience survey conducted by Television Preview of Hollywood, Calif. I can say I have been surveyed when people raise that question, “Who ever gets surveyed, anyway?” About 200 of us packed into a room at the downtown Embassy Suites hotel. We viewed two half-hour shows that aspire to prime time viewing slots. Either or both may make it. In my judgment they need a tremendous amount of work to attract an audience.

“Soul Mates” is a drama which focuses on past life regressions, a potentially attractive subject. It starred Kim Somebody-or-other, whom I was supposed to recognize but didn’t.

I held high expectations for “Soul Mates.” The master of ceremonies explained this had originally been designed as a full hour drama. It had been cut to a half-hour. The version we saw, obviously episode number one, suffered all the sins of trying to tell an hour of introductory story in half the time.

Plot changes came so quickly and with so little preparation I found myself more confused than convinced. I don’t doubt that the reality, or perhaps the illusion, of past life regressions can be produced by therapists or by the patient. The fact that some of these past life scenes hit Kim in her dreams I find less believable. The ultimate in clich퀌�s appears when one of the characters says to Kim, “See you in another lifetime.” We also get anchored to the show’s title when the boyfriend declares, “I belong with you. You’re my soul mate.” Hitting me in the face with a fish like this inspires me to groan, “Oh, please!”

So much happens in so short a time in “Soul Mates” that my brain swam in a sea of confused reactions and memories. Too much, too soon, too trite and too awkward would be my judgment of this introductory episode.

The other showcased the redoubtable veteran, Valerie Harper. She plays a high city hall functionary in the alleged comedy, “City.” Harper demonstrates the opposite side of the peso. In keeping with Harper’s frenetic personality, scene piled upon scene in rapid mind-numbing succession.

Valerie’s live-in daughter wants to sleep with a married man she just met. Valerie tries to pretend a modern attitude on this.

Valerie suffers grinding pain over the idea of her little flower becoming fertilized by some vagrant sower of seed.

Valerie enters chaos at her city hall job.

Valerie deals with an area security cop who convinces us he registers moron on the intelligence scale, yet he unveils that cunning insight we have come to expect from morons on television.

Valerie ends it with a tender scene which dissolves the married lover threat in tried and trite soap opera fashion.

Valerie finds temporary surcease from her daily burdens, but we know tomorrow will become hectic again.

While Harper occupies every scene, the second most pervasive presence in this sitcom is the laugh track. Not quite so pointless and offensive as the laugh track on “Friends,” (which never rests for more than eight seconds), the “City” laugh track lurks omnipresent behind every line of dialogue, theoretically funny or not. It almost embarrassed me to hear some of our preview audience titter or even laugh out loud at lines I found totally devoid of humor.

I was pleased to discover that the questionnaire we filled out at the end gave us the opportunity to express complete disgust with laugh tracks generally. Whatever happened to the writers that could write dialogue which sounded actually funny? “City” becomes one more example of why I don’t watch sitcoms on television any more.

Our preview session ended with a showing of some television commercials. Most of these proved innocuous but not compelling. I became uncomfortable with only one, a Max Factor permanent lipstick. It has a name written in a strange script which I finally interpreted as FaceFinity. I suggest they go back, literally, to the drawing board. Another clunker was a dandruff shampoo whose name didn’t stick with me. To illustrate it, a young woman repeatedly ran her fingers through her long hair. Nothing else. I wasn’t convinced. All things considered, I enjoyed the experience and would go for it again, if asked. I don’t believe I saw any future “ER” and certainly not any “Frazier.” But viewing these shows gave me a sense of staying slightly ahead of the wave, which strokes my ego.